Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why No Comments?

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, as we get e-mails from time to time asking why we don't have comments enabled on our website (some anti-vaxxers, characteristically not paying attention to details, gleefully assume lack of comments equals lack of interest in the website). The decision not to allow comments on the blog did not come easy. On one hand, open comments can often lead to healthy debate. 

I was not convinced, however, that in our case, the debate would be healthy. Instead, I feared our comments section would begin to look like a lot of blogs on the topic: a barrage of misinformation and downright falsehoods directed toward new and expecting parents in the hope that they will be scared out of vaccinating. Anyone speaking up for vaccines often finds herself under attack, even her love for her child questioned (happened to my sister). I even find there is a distinct level of desperation in these comments, as the hyperbole and vitriol grow stronger as the anti-vax movement grows weaker. I didn't want to be a place where that hyperbole and vitriol was on display.

In fact, as it becomes more and more clear in the scientific community--and in the media, thank God--that anti-vax claims of the harms of vaccine are utterly without merit, they have lost a great deal of access to new and expecting parents. No longer do new parents see anti-vaccine activists pitted against epidemiologists, pediatricians, and infectious disease specialists on morning shows. Rarely do you see these anti-vaccine activists quoted in newspaper articles. What they have left are their blogs and websites--and the comments sections on others' blogs and websites.

I remember vividly the late nights I spent, as an anxious new parent, scrolling through comments on articles about immunization, and growing more and more fearful the more and more "information" I read from anti-vaccine activists and mothers who chose "cod liver oil" over giving their child the DTaP for whooping cough. It took a lot more work, and some bad decisions about immunizations on my part, to realize I'd been duped. There is no law that says blog comments have to be truthful. In fact, a study in Science has found that online comments on science blogs, like ours, have a tendency to lower people's scientific understanding. 

I absolutely respect the decision of some of my favorite and most admired blogs and websites to keep comments enabled, and I fully support their reasoning for doing this. However, on this site, I have chosen not to enable comments from either pro-vaccine parents or anti-vaccine parents because I refuse to allow misinformation anywhere on the site--and the amount of time comment moderation would take to honor this is beyond my current capabilities. 

Another reason I choose not to enable comments is because the majority of the stories here are written by parents--parents who have chosen to talk about a health care decision they've made. They don't deserve vitriolic comments hurled toward them in a public forum (and I know because I get the e-mails these parents would've, had the commenters gotten ahold of their e-mail addresses or been able to comment on the stories). 

The media has often been accused, in covering the immunization debate, of employing false equivalency, something they have also been accused of doing in the climate change debate. That concept describes the way journalists (and others) mistake fairness and balance with equivalence. An example I use a lot is the Bigfoot Defense. If a news outlet were to do a story on species thought extinct but later found extant, and have on the panel a biologist, a rainforest activist, and E.O. Wilson, would it make sense to also have a person who knew a lot about Bigfoot? That's exactly what the media has done--except in the case of vaccines, this false equivalency has caused a great deal of harm in the form of dropping immunization rates.  You will not see a forum here for false equivalency, which is why the comments are closed. 

Some anti-vax blogs or commenters on other sites try to paint our decision as being about a lack of "courage" or some desire to create an echo chamber. If you've read this far, you know that courage is not something any of the moms who share their stories here lack. Time for sorting through scientifically challenged comments from people determined to keep you from vaccinating your child and protecting the vulnerable people in your community is. And as far as an echo chamber, my goal in life is to turn this vaccine debate become an echo chamber; the only voices I want to hear coming back at me when it comes to whether or not to vaccinate are ones saying: YES! That is nothing I'd ever apologize for, because vaccines save lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.